Blog Political Science and Public Administration

Quim Brugué (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Ismael Blanco (IGOP, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Júlia Boada (IGOP, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).


We live in an age of uncertainty and, consequently, we are asked to be flexible and innovative. Innovation has become a magic concept -a key tool for addressing the complex challenges of the new millennium. In this context, our report focuses on the difficult relation between innovation and public policies -a complex relationship because public administration has to face, simultaneously, the imperatives of security, flexibility, regularity, and adaptability. In other terms, the public sector is badly equipped for innovation, while innovation is persistently knocking on its door. Public administration has been designed to do the same things the same way but, now, we are expecting public policies to be highly innovative and suited for a world in rapid transformation.


Our work starts from these premises and devotes its initial pages to conceptually define the why and what of innovation. Once such bases have been built, the article addresses its central question: how can we promote innovation in public policies? This is an empirical question that tries to shift the academic debate from theory to practice.


In order to answer such question, the paper develops two hypotheses and presents four cases studies in a summarizing form. Hypotheses are used to identify the two principal factors that can stimulate innovation in public policies: a) the environment (hybrid, creative, and holistic); and b) the engines (superior, lateral, internal, and external). The four case studies refer to four innovative public policies: the Landscape Catalogue, as a public policy which conceives landscape as a key factor for people’s quality of life; the Neighbourhood’s Law, a comprehensive policy against urban segregation; the Community Centres of Girona, a social cohesion policy based on a relational and communitarian approach; and the Super-city blocks in the district of Gracia (Barcelona), a mobility policy based on a multifaceted approach to the urban public space.


The report ends up with a guide for innovation. It is not a magic receipt, but aims at helping public institutions interested in fostering innovation in practice. Therefore, we start by drawing the initial conditions for innovation (identifying both needs and failures to address them). Next, we define the principal dimensions for developing an innovative experience: the conceptual turn (new questions) and the methodological turn (new answers). And, finally, we suggest that innovation can only emerge in certain environments and after the push of certain engines. Environments for innovations are characterised by giving space for interaction among multiple and diverse actors and accepting experimentation. At the same time, we also need the power coming from panoramic and reflexive points of view (superior engine), from comparative benchmarking (lateral engine), from the organizational knowledge (internal engine), and from the energy and creativity of society (external engine). 


View full text (in Catalan): Els motors de la innovació a l’Administració Pública